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Concept: Alternative splicing


RNA-seq is a powerful tool for the study of alternative splicing and other forms of alternative isoform expression. Understanding the regulation of these processes requires sensitive and specific detection of differential isoform abundance in comparisons between conditions, cell types, or tissues. We present DEXSeq, a statistical method to test for differential exon usage in RNA-seq data. DEXSeq uses generalized linear models and offers reliable control of false discoveries by taking biological variation into account. DEXSeq detects with high sensitivity genes, and in many cases exons, that are subject to differential exon usage. We demonstrate the versatility of DEXSeq by applying it to several data sets. The method facilitates the study of regulation and function of alternative exon usage on a genome-wide scale. An implementation of DEXSeq is available as an R/Bioconductor package.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Statistics, Messenger RNA, Intron, Spliceosome, RNA splicing, Alternative splicing


Activated RAS promotes dimerization of members of the RAF kinase family. ATP-competitive RAF inhibitors activate ERK signalling by transactivating RAF dimers. In melanomas with mutant BRAF(V600E), levels of RAS activation are low and these drugs bind to BRAF(V600E) monomers and inhibit their activity. This tumour-specific inhibition of ERK signalling results in a broad therapeutic index and RAF inhibitors have remarkable clinical activity in patients with melanomas that harbour mutant BRAF(V600E). However, resistance invariably develops. Here, we identify a new resistance mechanism. We find that a subset of cells resistant to vemurafenib (PLX4032, RG7204) express a 61-kDa variant form of BRAF(V600E), p61BRAF(V600E), which lacks exons 4-8, a region that encompasses the RAS-binding domain. p61BRAF(V600E) shows enhanced dimerization in cells with low levels of RAS activation, as compared to full-length BRAF(V600E). In cells in which p61BRAF(V600E) is expressed endogenously or ectopically, ERK signalling is resistant to the RAF inhibitor. Moreover, a mutation that abolishes the dimerization of p61BRAF(V600E) restores its sensitivity to vemurafenib. Finally, we identified BRAF(V600E) splicing variants lacking the RAS-binding domain in the tumours of six of nineteen patients with acquired resistance to vemurafenib. These data support the model that inhibition of ERK signalling by RAF inhibitors is dependent on levels of RAS-GTP too low to support RAF dimerization and identify a novel mechanism of acquired resistance in patients: expression of splicing isoforms of BRAF(V600E) that dimerize in a RAS-independent manner.

Concepts: Gene expression, Transcription factor, Enzyme inhibitor, Dimer, Monomer, Inhibitor, Xanthine oxidase inhibitor, Alternative splicing


Lung cancer is a highly heterogeneous disease in terms of both underlying genetic lesions and response to therapeutic treatments. We performed deep whole-genome sequencing and transcriptome sequencing on 19 lung cancer cell lines and three lung tumor/normal pairs. Overall, our data show that cell line models exhibit similar mutation spectra to human tumor samples. Smoker and never-smoker cancer samples exhibit distinguishable patterns of mutations. A number of epigenetic regulators, including KDM6A, ASH1L, SMARCA4, and ATAD2, are frequently altered by mutations or copy number changes. A systematic survey of splice-site mutations identified 106 splice site mutations associated with cancer specific aberrant splicing, including mutations in several known cancer-related genes. RAC1b, an isoform of the RAC1 GTPase that includes one additional exon, was found to be preferentially up-regulated in lung cancer. We further show that its expression is significantly associated with sensitivity to a MAP2K (MEK) inhibitor PD-0325901. Taken together, these data present a comprehensive genomic landscape of a large number of lung cancer samples and further demonstrate that cancer-specific alternative splicing is a widespread phenomenon that has potential utility as therapeutic biomarkers. The detailed characterizations of the lung cancer cell lines also provide genomic context to the vast amount of experimental data gathered for these lines over the decades, and represent highly valuable resources for cancer biology.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cancer, Mutation, Lung cancer, Alternative splicing, Splice site mutation


RNA-Seq technology has been used widely in transcriptome study, and one of the most important applications is to estimate the expression level of genes and their alternative splicing isoforms. There have been several algorithms published to estimate the expression based on different models. Recently Wu et al. published a method that can accurately estimate isoform level expression by considering position-related sequencing biases using nonparametric models. The method has advantages in handling different read distributions, but there hasn’t been an efficient program to implement this algorithm.

Concepts: Gene expression, Molecular biology, RNA, Computer program, RNA splicing, Alternative splicing, Protein isoform, RNA-Seq


Short-read high-throughput RNA sequencing, though powerful, is limited in its ability to directly measure exon connectivity in mRNAs that contain multiple alternative exons located farther apart than the maximum read length. Here, we use the Oxford Nanopore MinION sequencer to identify 7,899 ‘full-length’ isoforms expressed from four Drosophila genes, Dscam1, MRP, Mhc, and Rdl. These results demonstrate that nanopore sequencing can be used to deconvolute individual isoforms and that it has the potential to be a powerful method for comprehensive transcriptome characterization.

Concepts: DNA, Molecular biology, RNA, Messenger RNA, Intron, Spliceosome, RNA splicing, Alternative splicing


Alternative splicing (AS) can critically affect gene function and disease, yet mapping splicing variations remains a challenge. Here, we propose a new approach to define and quantify mRNA splicing in units of local splicing variations (LSVs). LSVs capture previously defined types of alternative splicing as well as more complex transcript variations. Building the first genome wide map of LSVs from twelve mouse tissues, we find complex LSVs constitute over 30% of tissue dependent transcript variations and affect specific protein families. We show the prevalence of complex LSVs is conserved in humans and identify hundreds of LSVs that are specific to brain subregions or altered in Alzheimer’s patients. Amongst those are novel isoforms in the Camk2 family and a novel poison exon in Ptbp1, a key splice factor in neurogenesis. We anticipate the approach presented here will advance the ability to relate tissue-specific splice variation to genetic variation, phenotype, and disease.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, RNA, Messenger RNA, Intron, RNA splicing, Alternative splicing


Alternative splicing is commonly believed to be a major source of cellular protein diversity. However, although many thousands of alternatively spliced transcripts are routinely detected in RNA-seq studies, reliable large-scale mass spectrometry-based proteomics analyses identify only a small fraction of annotated alternative isoforms. The clearest finding from proteomics experiments is that most human genes have a single main protein isoform, while those alternative isoforms that are identified tend to be the most biologically plausible: those with the most cross-species conservation and those that do not compromise functional domains. Indeed, most alternative exons do not seem to be under selective pressure, suggesting that a large majority of predicted alternative transcripts may not even be translated into proteins.

Concepts: DNA, Proteins, Protein, Gene, Molecular biology, Messenger RNA, Proteome, Alternative splicing


The CD19 antigen, expressed on most B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemias (B-ALL), can be targeted with chimeric antigen receptor-armed T cells (CART-19), but relapses with epitope loss occur in 10% to 20% of pediatric responders. We detected hemizygous deletions spanning the CD19 locus and de novo frameshift and missense mutations in exon 2 of CD19 in some relapse samples. However, we also discovered alternatively spliced CD19 mRNA species, including one lacking exon 2. Pull-down/siRNA experiments identified SRSF3 as a splicing factor involved in exon 2 retention, and its levels were lower in relapsed B-ALL. Using genome editing, we demonstrated that exon 2 skipping bypasses exon 2 mutations in B-ALL cells and allows expression of the N-terminally truncated CD19 variant, which fails to trigger killing by CART-19 but partly rescues defects associated with CD19 loss. Thus, this mechanism of resistance is based on a combination of deleterious mutations and ensuing selection for alternatively spliced RNA isoforms.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Mutation, Messenger RNA, B cell, Spliceosome, RNA splicing, Alternative splicing


Wilson disease is associated with a defect in copper metabolism and caused by different mutations in ATP7B gene. The aim of this study was to determine mutation frequency of ATP7B exons 8 and 14 in Wilson disease patients from the South of Iran. The exons 8 and 14 of ATP7B gene were analyzed in 65 unrelated Wilson disease patients by Denaturing High Performance Liquid Chromatography, and samples with abnormal peak profile were selected for direct DNA sequencing. Seven out of 65 (10.8%) patients had mutations at exon 14, including c.3061-1G>A in four and c.3207C>A in three patients. In addition, four different mutations were identified at exon 8 of six patients (9.2%). Three of these mutations have been previously reported, including c.2304delC in two patients, c.2293G>A and 2304dupC each in one patient. Furthermore, a novel mutation, c.2335T>G (p.Trp779Gly), was identified in two unrelated patients. The patients with this novel mutation demonstrated severe neuropsychiatric condition. All together, 13 out of 65 (20%) patients had mutations within exons 8 and 14. We also identified a lower frequency of the most common mutations of exon 8 and 14 in the Southern Iranian population.

Concepts: DNA, Mutation, Evolution, DNA repair, High performance liquid chromatography, Alternative splicing, Mutation rate, Wilson's disease


MALT1 channels proximal T-cell receptor (TCR) signalling to downstream signalling pathways. With MALT1A and MALT1B two conserved splice variants exist and we demonstrate here that MALT1 alternative splicing supports optimal T-cell activation. Inclusion of exon7 in MALT1A facilitates the recruitment of TRAF6, which augments MALT1 scaffolding function, but not protease activity. Naive CD4(+) T cells express almost exclusively MALT1B and MALT1A expression is induced by TCR stimulation. We identify hnRNP U as a suppressor of exon7 inclusion. Whereas selective depletion of MALT1A impairs T-cell signalling and activation, downregulation of hnRNP U enhances MALT1A expression and T-cell activation. Thus, TCR-induced alternative splicing augments MALT1 scaffolding to enhance downstream signalling and to promote optimal T-cell activation.

Concepts: Gene expression, Signal transduction, T cell, T cell receptor, Alternative splicing